Recently, a man I know shared with me that years ago when he applied unsuccessfully for a high-level job, he was told on the sly that the main reason he didn’t get it was that the company felt pressured to give the job to a woman.
The man who told me this was a middle-aged male, accomplished in his field, and when he was told this, he wasn’t upset because it reassured him that he wasn’t the problem. He was allowed to leave feeling perfectly competent and qualified. He didn’t have to question his ability, credentials or whether he was deserving of the position. He was disappointed and annoyed but admitted that getting to leave with his confidence intact reduced the negative feelings greatly.
Now, it may have been that the hiring person lied to him — gave a fake excuse to make him feel better or to hide some other reason he wasn’t selected. But truth or lie, professional or not, he left with his sense of confidence. He was so confident that even though he could have brought legal action on the basis of discrimination (it’s not just women who can be discriminated again because of their sex), he merely went on with his life and pretty quickly found a similarly prestigious position elsewhere.
Which brings us to the confidence gap between men and women. The Atlantic magazine had an article several months ago on how men are generally more self confident than women and how that greater self-confidence typically translates to greater success.
Implicit in this observation is that if women want to be more successful, they need to work on raising their self confidence, that the burden is on women to not be such insecure little vessels of professional femininity.
But my opening example sheds light on one of the ways confidence is raised internally and affected externally.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of every woman who lacks confidence to raise it. It’s also the responsibility of every woman to not allow her different style of communication, demeanor or methods of conflict resolution to be perceived as lacking in confidence when that is not the case.
But managers and co-workers can still examine the subtle and not so subtle ways we build and bolster the confidence of some but not others.
For example, are some employees complimented on skill and accomplishments while others are complimented only on personality or physical attributes? In meetings and other gatherings, are all people who speak listened to with an equal amount of attention and respect?
Employers and potential employers have more power than they think in helping to narrow the confidence gap between men and women in the workplace. And having employers, supervisors and co-workers examine their biases, and acknowledge women’s right to have as much confidence as men in the first place, is the first step.